CECIL TAYLOR & THE ITALIAN INSTABILE ORCHESTRA

The Owner Of The River Bank
Justin Time/Enja JENJ 3317-2

Probably the first musician who legitimately melded African-American improvisational skills with hyper-European instrumental prowess, Cecil Taylor is a true citizen of the world.

Lionized as a combo leader and soloist, the now 75-year-old’s orchestral talents are less well known, since rehearsing any large band is time-consuming and expensive. Luckily as part of the celebration of the Italian Instabile Orchestra (IIO)’s 10th anniversary, the Talos Festival in Puglia, Italy’s arranged for this match up. The result gives Taylor the largest collection of orchestral colors to work with since he soloed with Michael Mantler’s 21-piece band on COMMUNICATIONS in 1968.

Unlike that legendary CD and the few other large bands the pianist has organized over the years, the 18-piece IIO has a more-or-less stable personnel made up of Italy’s top exploratory players. Thus, a disciplined and experienced group is on hand to interpret the graphical notation that makes up Taylor’s more than one hour score, and before this, during a series of rehearsals, was able to add individual interpretations of Taylor’s work.

THE OWNER OF THE RIVER BANK is no concerto for piano and orchestra however. Instead Taylor’s presence is conspicuous only when each compositional motif or movement ends with a piano intermezzo that brings on the next section. Viewing the bonus video track included on the disc, you can see that the pianism isn’t all Taylor either. Umberto Petrin, the IIO’s regular keyboardist, contributes as well, with only certain characteristic runs and, of course, his muttered throat singing directly attributable to the American.

Taken all of a piece, “The Owner of the River Bank” is not only so-called avant-garde and so-called jazzy, but also includes surprisingly lengthy impressionistic — even romantic — passages. Throughout, violinist Renato Geremia, cellist Paolo Damiani and bassist Giovanni Maier are as apt to play caprices and arpeggios as spiccato, sul tasto and ponticello. Additionally the alp-horn-like smears of Martin Mayes’ French horn and the thunder of Mazzone’s tympani are put to good and original use.

But don’t confuse this composition with a Third Stream exercise. At points the massed trombone choir spits out an overlay of triplets or liberates plunger sounds from deep within the horns’ bells. Screaming trumpet counter motifs vibrate from trilling rubato to chromatic explosions. Meanwhile the five reed players peep, slurp and low as they smear tones every which way.

By midpoint, the somewhat tentative sound shards coalesce into harsh building blocks of sound superimposed upon one another — and held together with Taylor’s high frequency cadenzas. Rolling bounces and backbeats from tympani and drums give the piece rhythmic heft as a serpentine soprano saxophone line — perhaps from Mario Schiano — slithers sensuously through tremolo barnyard blasts from Carlo Actis Dato’s baritone saxophone and triple tonguing from one trumpeter, likely Pino Minafra.

Later on, the dynamic accents the pianist snatches from each side of the keyboard give way to a sort of legato duet with Petrin. No matter how impressionistic the two get, there’s still an underlying exploratory rhythm. Yet while no one would figure these passages are played by Alfred Brendel and Walter Klein or any other so-called immortal classical piano duo, they’re obvious not by a jazz duo like John Lewis and Hank Jones or Willie “The Lion” Smith and Luckey Roberts either.

Finally the band members’ distinctive Italian personality asserts itself as well. Among the double-stopping bass and cello lines, a spiccato violin section, plus wah wahs and smears from the syncopated horns, are group verbal improvisations that mirror Taylor’s vocal riffs. When he growls, they provide doo-wop vocalese and buffo pseudo opera. There’s even a quasi-Dixieland interjection, where Lauro Rossi or Giancarlo Schiaffini adds some Kid Ory-like laughing plunger work, and a trilling, double-tongued clarinet — Gianluigi Trovesi? — momentarily references Johnny Dodds. To counter, a trumpet line snakes over the massed band and Taylor contributes a high-intensity tremolo.

Taken at double speed, the suite’s penultimate movement finds the composer characteristically applying contrasting dynamics as he surges over the keys. With the other pianist playing treble clef accompaniment, Taylor shifts the harmonics northward helped by fricative percussion and colored air circulating through the reeds. When an almost martial contrapuntal theme arrives from the surging brass, it’s quieted by another piano display.

The finale features ascending chords goosed by a prestissimo drum beat, a romantic, moderato piano part and more individual vocal interjections — topped by conspiratorial whispers and keening growls from Taylor. Double stopping, sul tasto bowing from the cello mix with emphasized airy reed smears and tongue slaps, until an agitated piano melodies leads the band to silence.

Often veloce, sometimes andante, usually frantic and frequently discordant, this bravura display of musicianship confirms the compositional, interpretational and creative talents of all 19 players.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 4. Part 4 5. Part 5 6. Part 6 7. Part 7: Mpg movie

Personnel: Guido Mazzon, Luca Calabrese, Alberto Mandarini (trumpets and voices); Giancarlo Schiaffini, Sebi Tramontana, Lauro Rossi (trombones and voices; Martin Mayes (French horn and voice); Eugenio Colombo (sopranino saxophone, flute, voice); Mario Schiano (alto and soprano saxophones, voice); Gianluigi Trovesi (alto saxophone, voice); Daniele Cavallanti (tenor saxophone, voice); Carlo Actis Dato (bass clarinet, baritone saxophone and voice); Renato Geremia (violin, voice); Cecil Taylor and Umberto Petrin (pianos and voices); Paolo Damiani (cello, voice); Giovanni Maier (bass, voice); Vincenzo Mazzone (drums, tympani and voice); Tiziano Tononi (drums, percussion and voice)